America's Great Indian Nations (1994)


When Christopher Columbus first encountered the peoples of the new world he was deeply moved. For their part the Taino Indians of the Caribbean thought that Columbus and his sailors were gods who had come from heaven. But within a single generation the peaceful kingdom of the Taino Indians which Columbus first saw would be gone forever, wasted by disease, slavery, torture and war.

This new world, that Columbus found, was in fact a very ancient place and the people he called 'Indios' had lived upon the continent for thousands of years. Their ancestors were its true discoverers. Ice age hunters who followed the rising sun east across the land bridge from Asia to discover a continent ruled by glaciers and great bison.

When the ice melted nomadic tribes pushed southward into the green part to the continent following the stars, the seasons and the herds. They conquered the land and they fashioned languages and customs as varied as a feathers of the birds yet between them run spiritual roots buried deep in the Earth.

And then after centuries beyond number the white man came in search of wealth and power. Two million Indians would endure four centuries of struggle before the sun finally set upon their free dominion. These European settlers came in wave upon wave to occupy Native American lands. In the bellies of their ships the Europeans carried horses, guns and disease and in their hearts they carried a belief in their destiny to rule the Americas from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

As the whites pressed ever-westward they finally waged an absolute war on the Indians that would close the frontier and usher in the white man's era of railroads, telegraphs and mining. Yet the history of America is in many ways the history of the American Indians, for they gave the Europeans the skills and knowledge needed to survive in the new world. These are the stories of the mightiest Indian nations.

The Iroquois of upstate New York were a unique confederation of six Indian nations. Their great law of peace attracted the attention of American colonists who were forging their own new country. The Seminoles of Florida who gathered together free Indians and black slaves fleeing the northern lands. Together they built a patchwork nation of peoples mirroring the melting pot of America.

The Navajo whose powerful spiritual link to their land inspired a courageous defense of their territory in the great south-west. The fiercely independent Cheyenne, the beautiful people of the plains, whose families were massacred by US Army soldiers. And their brothers, Lakota, the defiant warriors of the west who united with the Cheyenne to hold back the tide of western expansion for 50 years.

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